Trichomoniasis is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections. Over 7 million new cases occur in the United States each year. Also called “trich,” this infection is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. Trichomoniasis can affect both men and women but women are much more likely to suffer from symptoms once infected. In fact, only 10% to 50% of men infected will exhibit any symptoms of trichomoniasis. This makes infection of sexual partners very easy. It is important to get tested for trich if you think that you are infected.

Type of Infection: Parasitic infection.

Mode of Transmission: Trichomoniasis is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse. Almost 100% of infections occur through penis-to-vagina intercourse, or vulva-to-vulva intercourse with an infected partner. Women can become infected through contact with both men and women. Men are more likely to contract the infection from women. The vagina is the most common site of infection in women while the urethra (urinary tract) is the most common site of infection in men. Because the trich protozoa can live outside the body for 45 minutes it is possible to contract trichomoniasis if you come into contact with infected towels, bedding, or bathing suits. However, it is very rare to contract the infection in this way.

Symptoms: Men generally exhibit no symptoms of trichomoniasis. However, they can experience irritation of the penis, a burning sensation during ejaculation or urination, and a thin, whitish discharge from the penis. Women are much more likely to show symptoms of Trich. These include a smelly, yellow-green discharge from the vagina, itchy genitals and thighs, swollen labia, and pain during intercourse or urination. Some women may confuse these symptoms with a yeast infection. 10% of women also experience lower abdominal pain and soreness. Women may also suffer from “strawberry cervix,” in which lesions form on the cervix and vaginal walls, giving the appearance of redness.

Treatment: Trichomoniasis is easily treated with oral antibiotics. The drug metronidazole is a 90% to 95% effective cure for trichomoniasis infections. Pregnant women may also be treated with metronidazole, in order to prevent the trich bacteria from threatening pregnancy.

Complications: If left untreated, trichomoniasis can rage on for years. In men, this can cause damage to the bladder and prostate. Prolonged infection in women can cause inflamed fallopian tubes and damage to the tissues of the cervix. Trich is also associated with an increased risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is thought that if you are infected with trich, you are 3 to 5 times more likely to be infected with HIV.

Consequences in Infants: Babies born to women infected with trichomoniasis are often born prematurely or at a low birth weight. Trich can cause the lining of the uterus to dislodge or tear, causing your baby to arrive early.

Risk Factors: Certain groups are at a higher risk for contracting trichomoniasis. Anyone with immune system disorders or with weakened immune systems are at a heightened risk of infection. This includes people who are diabetic or obese, those who have just given birth, and those who are taking antibiotics or oral contraceptives. If you already have a sexually transmitted disease you are also at an increased risk of contracting trich. Trichomoniasis is highly associated with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV infections.

Prevention: Trichomoniasis can only be prevented by abstaining from sex. If you do have sex, use a condom. Condoms will significantly reduce (but not eliminate) the likelihood of infection. Avoid multiple sex partners, as this will also put you at risk for infection. Investigate the sexual health of your partner and get tested before having sex. If you do have symptoms of trichomoniasis, avoid all sexual contact until you have received and completed treatment. Avoid using other people’s towels or swimsuits and shower after you go swimming. Avoid wearing tightly woven nylon underwear or pantyhose, as this can create a warm and moist environment where bacteria can thrive.

Research: Currently, research is being done on discovering why trichomoniasis causes the growth and development of vaginal microbes. Recently, the entire genetic code of the trichomonus vaginalis protozoan was sequenced. This research is being used to find new methods of preventing the spread of trich.

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